Mating Season on Todagin Mountain

Over 2011 and 2012, Paul Colangelo camped on Todagin Mountain with its large herd of endangered Stone’s Sheep for five months to tell the story of the herd and document its habitat use, using specialized camera equipment to record the movements of the sheep across the plateau. Learn more in his earlier post: Surviving Todagin: Introduction. His story continues below.

By Paul Colangelo, International League of Conservation Photographers

The Todagin plateau bursts to life each fall with the frenzied activity of Stone’s sheep battling for the chance to mate. Overcome by hormones, the usually sedate sheep battle and vie to win the attention of desirable partners. The rams, with their large curled horns, compete in fierce head-butting contests to establish the hierarchy within the male ranks. Fights continue to erupt when insubordinate juveniles are caught trying to mate behind the backs of their superiors. The females alternate from playing hard to get, fleeing from the less-impressive rams and fawning over the impressive full-curls. The yearlings seem to watch on in amazement as the usually calm and steady adults lose all control.

Two young male Stone's sheep, Ovis dalli stonei, practice head butting contests that play an important role in establishing the hierarchy among males. Photo by Paul Colangelo.


I am camping on Todagin Mountain throughout November and December to photograph this high-energy season. The high winds on Todagin, which destroyed camp in the summer, only get worse during the winter, so I have to base-camp halfway down the mountain, protected among the trees. I start each day with a two-hour hike in the dark up the snow-covered mountain to reach the rutting grounds by sunrise and then spend the day on the exposed plateau with the sheep before hiking back in the dark after sunset. I wake up in my tent at 4 am in -12F temperature and have some instant oatmeal and strong coffee before heading out. I return to camp by 7 pm, eat a freeze-dried dinner in a bag and am asleep by 8 pm. To make this schedule seem normal, I set my watch two hours ahead, creating my own Todagin time zone.


More From Todagin Mountain

Surviving Todagin: Introduction



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Meet the Author
Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.